Childhood in World History

Childhood in World History

Childhood in World History

Childhood in World History


Taking a global look at what the category of childhood has meant from agricultural societies to the present day, Childhood in World History offers a vital overview of this topical field. Through comparative analysis, Peter Stearns facilitates a cross-cultural and transnational understanding of attitudes towards the role of children in society, and how "models" of childhood have developed throughout history. Engaging with issues around children's role in the family and the involvement of communal, national, educational, and global infrastructures, Stearns unpacks the experience of childhood in the West, Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

This expanded and updated third edition includes:

  • updated bibliographies and suggested readings
  • expanded discussions of religion and children's rights
  • a new chapter on families in developing economies in the early twentieth century
  • broadened discussions of childhood in Japan and in communist countries.

With expanded further reading lists, Stearns's accessible text not only provides an overview of its field but also offers a research guide for more specialized study. Concisely presented but broad in scope, Stearns's accessible text guides readers through the transformations of the concept of childhood.


It is a pleasure to offer a revised preface for this third edition, while keeping some of the comments that accompanied the book in the first place. I am of course delighted that the book has done well enough to warrant this new effort. The history of children and childhood is expanding rapidly, but linking it directly to a world history context remains somewhat unusual. In my view, the relationship helps an understanding of world history and childhood alike, and I am pleased that growing efforts in teaching and research reflect the connection at least to some extent. The hope is that the new edition will contribute further to this expansion of range and perspective.

I discussed the possibility of a contribution on childhood to the Themes in World History series several years ago, but the challenge initially loomed large. The subject is huge, and there remain big gaps in available historical knowledge. While the situation has improved a bit in the last four years, particularly with new works on societies such as China and Latin America and on child labor as a global theme, a substantial challenge remains. The importance of childhood as part of the human experience, and therefore of history, made it impossible, however, to abandon the goal. Changes and continuities in childhood should be a key theme in world history. I owe huge debts to many scholars, most of whom I don’t know personally, for the pioneering work that ultimately made this book possible. In terms of people I do know, Bruce Mazlish, Raymond Grew, Ben Carton, Paula Fass, and Brian Platt, and the work they have encouraged on childhood and globalization, have contributed very directly. Several readers, including Paula Fass, Heidi Morrison, and Colin Heywood, provided very helpful suggestions for the new edition. Joan Fragaszy, Clio Stearns, Earnie Porta, John Garnett, and Vyta Baselice generated extensive research assistance, and their efforts were both diligent and . . .

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